In 2013, developer Voilition and publisher Deep Silver, made one of the most fun, silly, and ridiculous open world games to date, Saints Row IV. Well, here we are 4 years later, and they’re at it again with a spiritual successor to Saints Row IV, Agents of Mayhem. Agents of Mayhem takes place in the same universe as Saints Row IV, after the events of the “reclaimed earth” ending of Saints Row IV, in which God recreates the entire earth to retcon the events of the Saints Row universe up until that point. So I guess, hey, we’ve got a fresh start here? But, that doesn’t stop the development team from keeping some of the same themes we saw in their previous work. You’ll notice the color purple, a staple of the Saints Row universe, is heavily featured in Agents of Mayhem as well. One other major throwback you’ll see in this game is the fleur de lis, the official symbol of the Agents of Mayhem.
When we join the Agents for some Mayhem (that word play though), we find out that about a year prior, an organization called Legion launched one giant organized attack against every nation on the planet, causing some considerable damage worldwide. One of Legions previous agents, Persephone Brimstone, wasn’t exactly thrilled about this, so she defected and founded the Agents of Mayhem to fight for peace and freedom. The Agents stronghold is in Seoul, Korea, where we find the team trying to take down the antagonist, Doctor Babylon. Doctor B. has got a scheme up his sleeve to destroy the entire world, and it’s up to us to stop him! *Cue dramatic theme song*
Let me start out by saying, holy shit, this game is fun. This game feels like an amalgam of games and ideas that already exist, slammed together by developers who cared more about this project, than the projects they took their ideas from. For example, the way the characters move reminds me of Crackdown, but much more crisp, and the characters have way more personality. The characters of the game give you the same feeling as when you see super heroes team up in cartoons, and their different powers/skills remind me of games like Overwatch or Paladins, in a single player environment. Everyone has a gimmick, and a backstory, that are fleshed out beautifully. This game also retains the balls that Saints Row IV had when it came to character interaction, and the general ridiculousness of the world around them. On top of that, content is king, and this game has it in spades, even without DLC that they may release in the future. All that said, I guess I should actually get to the gameplay.
So right out of the Gat (callback!)…er gate, the game has has you take three of the main characters through a mission where each of them needs to meet up at a rendezvous point so that they can organize and take down Doctor B. The game uses this as a tutorial mission, complete with explanation of how the basic mechanics work. I’ll break it down for you quick. Your Right Trigger/Bumper is responsible for your primary and secondary attack. Right stick moves your camera, and clicking it throws down a beautifully animated melee attack. B lets you dash, although some characters can air dash, as everyone has different abilities. The up button on the d-pad will call your vehicle to you, once you unlock it. If you stand directly in front of your vehicle as it drives up, each character has their own unique animation for jumping into the car. Left stick lets you move, and clicking it in lets you run. (One of the very few annoyances I found with the game, is that while you are running, if you try to turn the camera with the right stick, within a few seconds the game will forcibly center the camera. This is pretty obnoxious unless you’re running perfectly straight.) If you build up enough “mayhem”, a special meter you fill by attacking enemies, you can press both bumper buttons at the same time to activate mayhem mode. Each character has a different ultimate attack they can use during mayhem mode before the timer runs out.
One of the most fun mechanics in the game, is the ability to switch your characters in and out at will. Much like the concept we’ve seen in the Marvel vs. Capcom series, the game lets you take three characters out of all of the characters you’ve unlocked, and create a squad that you take out missions. While you’re out on a mission, you can press right and left buttons on the direction pad to switch between your three team members, each with their own shields, health bar, experience bar, and mayhem meter. It gives you a lot of leeway. Do you want to save up all three mayhem bars for whatever boss is at the end of a mission? Do you need to regenerate shields? Do you need a heavy for some higher armored enemies? You’ve got a lot of options here. And, speaking of the team, you can unlock quite a few team members in this game.
The best part about it though, is that you don’t just earn them in a half assed manner like most games. Instead of just “unlocking” a character, you unlock character missions. These missions serve as an introduction to the character, giving their backstory, and letting you play that mission solely as that character so you can learn their tricks. Once you complete their mission, they are permanently part of your team. It also gives you a chance to get used to a new primary weapon, as every character has their own unique primary weapon as well. Some of them are pretty straight forward guns, but some characters have freeze guns, bows, primary guns that are fully automatic, or bursts, etc.
Once you’ve got your squad assembled, you’ll realize there’s a shit ton of stuff to do, equip, visit, create, attack, or collect. One of the interesting mechanics about Agents of Mayhem, is that the agency itself has a level that, as it increases, unlocks more agency assets for you to use. One great example is, unlocking Gremlin R&D, which is run by a peppy agency member who can create alternate weapons/power-ups that you can use a limited number of time to inflict or reduce massive amounts of damage. These can range anywhere from energy shield, to giant metal ball the size of a vehicle rolling down the street demolishing everything it hits.
You might want to be careful when it comes to demolishing innocent civilian vehicles however. If you cause too much damage, Legion members will star to show up and try to kill you. This is similar to most “authority” system in open world games. As you fill the meter up, the Legion gradually sends the next most difficult enemy in their article to come after you.
Other than Gremlin Tech, there’s plenty of other agency goodies to unlock. You’ve got Requisitions, which let’s you buy global upgrades for your squad. The things you can buy are tied directly to your agency level. The higher the level, the more you have the opportunity to buy. The armory, which lets you look at, and outfit anyone on your team. You can swap out gadgets, which add passive bonuses, or skills for their primary and secondary weapons. You also have the wreck room, which is basically a simulation room that let’s you take on enemies in different scenarios. Typically these yield you cash, experience, and parts needed to create more Gremlin tech weapons. There’s also global conflicts. Global conflict let’s you send one of the agents that are not currently in your squad, to other parts of the world to complete missions that garner rewards. Typically these are timed, so don’t send out an Agent unless you’re willing to “lose” them for minutes, up to hours. You’ve also go a vehicle bay, which let’s you choose which vehicle comes when you call for your vehicle. You can also change colors and skins here as well.
Other than screwing around at HQ, there actually IS a game to play here. Similarly to most open world games in the same vein, you’ve got specific different types of missions outside of the main story that you can take on. You’ve got your standard vehicle delivery drop off, where you steal a car of a specific type, and drop it off at a marked location for xp and so on. You also have regular delivery missions where you can use your own car to drop off the item you need to deliver.
You’ve also got missions where you go out to save hostages who have been taken by the Legion. These are pretty straight forward, save innocent people, put bullets in the bad people. The, there are missions where you basically just destroy random shit that the Legion owns. Basically you’re trying not to get shot to death by Legion while you destroy a large machine of varying types, before you move on. One thing that I like quite a bit, is that you’ve got an option to change the difficulty of the game before a mission, which gives you extra bonuses to cash and experience if you set the difficulty higher.
Now there are also missions that don’t necessarily show up on the map. You can find these deep in the missions menu, but running into them on your own is a bit more fun. Basically, you’ve got two types of Legion buildings in the game. You’ve got out door compounds, that are large structures on top of buildings, and you’ve got lairs hidden under random trucks throughout the city. One other function you have at your disposal, if you press the Y button, is to “scan”. Often times in the game you’ll find these little glowing boxes that have items, or extra skins for your characters and their weapons, however, sometimes these boxes are sitting right in front of seemingly harmless trucks. However, if you can one of these boxes, and it turns out to be a secret entrance, the truck will lift up on hydraulics, and you’ll see an entrance to a legion lair. You can run through these with guns blazing to earn extra resources.
There’s also plenty of stuff to collect in the game. The main thing you’ll want to track down however, are these giant red crystals. When you find ten of these, they combine to make a power core. You can use the power cores to add a permanent passive upgrades to your team members, which is just one of the way you can level them up. As I mentioned earlier, every character has their own experience bar. This bar only filled up as you use characters on missions. If you don’t want a character left behind, make sure to mix it up regularly. When a character levels up, sometimes you get a new gadget, or new passive skill that you can equip at the armory, or right before a missions starts. Another benefit of leveling up, is that you get one point to dump into a more traditional level up mechanic. For instance, you could put one point in to permanently increase your overall shield health by 2%, which can stack up to 10 times, if you feel like dumping that many points into it.
Really, the only thing about the gameplay side of things that I was fairly indifferent towards was how lifeless the game world feels at times. There isn’t a particularly large pedestrian presence, and buildings are indestructible. Basically, outside of missions, what you see is what you get, and not much more outside of that. It’s not that the game isn’t visually striking, it’s just that, the city doesn’t feel like a living, breathing creature, as you’ve sees in the last few Grand Theft Auto games.
Replay Value and Visuals
When it comes to replay value in pretty much any open world game, I think a lot of it depends on how you approach the game. If you are a main story kind of person, who wants to blow through the main story, you’re going to have a lot to do after the game is over. You also have a lot of options for how you play the game, due to the large roster of playable characters. If you’re an achievement whore, you’re going to sink a lot of time into this game making sure you hit every last sub mission, or map quest available.
Visually speaking, this game sports some of the sharpest colors, and the most aesthetically pleasing cell shading I’ve ever seen. Other than that, the game doesn’t go out if it’s way to be “super realistic.” They have clearly opted for a silly, cartoon style feel, and it works incredibly well given the characters, and the general attitude of the game.
Final Thoughts and Verdict
This is a game that comes out of the gate strong to let you know that it just wants you to have a good damn time. Nothing about this game takes itself seriously, and I think it really gives you a laid back feel that offers up an opportunity to play without ever feeling stressed, even when you’re about to die. Unfortunately, as much as I actually enjoy the work they put into the game, the main story (other than the one off character mission background stories) is kind of lack luster, and much like most open world games, the extraneous missions can get a bit redundant. This is the type of game I pick up thinking “Man I’m going to play the shit out of this!”, only to find myself a couple of hours later feeling like they’ve thrown so much at me so fast, that there’s not a lot of tricks I haven’t seen. One other minor issue I’ve had with the game at times, is random frame rate drops. Sometimes the game feels as smooth as butter, then suddenly it feels rockier than most of my relationships. Overall, I think this game brings a lot of refreshing ideas to a genre that’s been beaten to death over the last decade, but they aren’t doing anything to really change the way we look at open world games.